by Alban Prince
A billionaire living in post war New York and a scared Australian pilot decide to escape.
|O N E
New York isn't safe anymore.
The way the tower is leaning probably isn't safe either, but it doesn't matter anymore. There isn't anyone left to save.
It doesn't seem to bother Tony.
Then again, nothing does.
He's always nonchalant about everything, and his girlfriend always hated it. But that's fine now, since his girlfriend is dead, and there isn't anyone left in New York who would care.
His psychologist quit, she actually quit, after Tony had exhausted his pickup lines and one-liners. She’d called him narcissistic, emotionally repressed, and an awful playboy. The words didn’t matter much to him, what hurt was her blatant hatred of him – she had a been a gem he couldn’t own, a fish he couldn’t catch.
They're dead, if you haven't caught on.
Like most of humanity.
Tony is living in a shack now. It's comical, actually—a billionaire who's always had the best things in life living in a shack.
It's pathetic, too.
Meanwhile, halfway across the world, Martin is packing a bag. The Royal Air Force is going to send him out after his ‘break,’ and he doesn't want to go. He's seen enough blood for a century.
He's on the base, borrowing civvies from his mates and shoving them in a rather un-military fashion into a duffel bag.
Martin is technically on leave, and that's why he's packing. He's not planning on coming back.
The attire is rather suspicious – wearing a tan trench coat with a t-shirt and jeans, and a pair of running shoes.
It’ll have to do, I suppose.
As he's walking out of the base, there's a noise. Not really a noise. Like the absence of noise. In any case, Martin knows a missile has landed on base.
There's only one word going through his brain: Run. Run. Run. It's so repetitious, he's not sure he even knows what it means anymore.
But he knows there's an aircraft nearby, one that they stole from the Americans. It's not a new one, and it isn't exactly well-equipped since they'd disarmed it upon capture.
But it has a full tank of fuel. He's pretty sure, anyway.
Tony never knew what, exactly, a bomb sounded like until this year. He's been taught his whole life that it is a loud bang, a huge, deafening noise.
It isn't, not really. It’s more of a subtraction of sound.
People don't realize how much sound means to them. Bombings are such awful experiences, just because of the stark, eerie vibe it gives off – like when you're listening to the radio, and the power goes out. It's so strange and quiet, like something's missing.
Tony can hear the missiles overhead.
It's only been a few this time.
Next time it would be worse.
He knows that.
And he's powerless to do anything about it.
He feels bad about the people who died, but he didn't know them. He doesn't owe them anything. Besides, Union Greenbacks are worthless now, and that's all he has.
This year, he's learned an important lesson:
He is absolutely, 100 percent-ly worthless. Sure, everyone knows his name. The girls know his game. But he's worthless. The bombs and the war have destroyed everyone, and while it hasn't destroyed him just yet, it's destroyed his reputation.
It was in tatters already, but still.
The last thing he'd done was publicly humiliate Kylie Jenner, and that wasn't something her fans took lightly. But Kylie Jenner was probably dead now anyway.
It didn't matter.
Not since the war.
There had been a couple from Quebec who had waded through the trash in New York a month ago. But they had died inside the public library they had taken shelter in. The building structure had collapsed.
Tony hasn't seen anyone since then.
Actually, besides that couple, he hasn't seen anyone in exactly ten months. When the war started, and everyone burned.
The small tarp-tent that Tony lives in has kept him relatively dry so far, even though it's raining cats and dogs. But he doesn't mind getting wet.
The leaves are changing their colors and falling to the ground, and the grass is dead. Not that there are many trees or grass at all. There's a lot of rubble, and the occasional tree or patch of grass in used-to-be parks and forest reserves. Tony finds himself half-hoping the grass never grows back—it was always ugly to him anyway.
Tony is absolutely sure that he will be fine. The missiles and bombs he hears aren't intended for New York. Everyone knows that everyone is dead. Excluding Tony.
So he figures as long as he doesn't mess something up, he'll be fine.
And he's probably right.
He usually is.
But then, outside his tarp tent, he hears crunching. And he's fairly certain it isn't just the rain.
Tony didn't exactly spend the years of his wealth preparing for world war, so he's never even held a pocket knife. But he grabs a sharp-ish stick and faces whatever animal is disrupting the peace.
It's not an animal.
It's a person.
A man wearing a tan trench coat and gym shoes is standing outside of the tent, frowning.
"Who are you?" The man asks.
Tony shoves his stick into the man's chest. "Who am I? Who are you?"
The man sighs. "I'm Martin. Martin Brawn. I'm from Australia. And you are?"
Tony frowns. "I'm Tony Hill. What are you doing here?"
"I flew my plane here. How did you get here?"
"I live here. Get out."
Martin frowns. "I can't, really. It’s risky. Dangerous."
Tony huffs. "Yeah, well, New York isn't much better."
Martin looks away. "I'll take my chances."
Tony rolls his eyes. "Yeah, well, I won't. So leave. If anyone finds out an Australian plane landed here, they'll bomb us. Me, specifically."
Martin's eyebrow raises. "Specifically?"
"Yeah, specifically. I'm Tony Hill."
"Is that important?"
Tony groans. "Yes, it's important! I'm famous!"
Martin frowns. "Really? I've never heard of you."
Tony sharply exhales and sends Martin a glare, not saying anything.
The pair stand there in the rain for what feels like hours, each waiting for the other to speak. Finally, Tony being Tony, breaks the silence.
"You need to go. How did you even get here without other air traffic seeing you?" Tony asks.
Martin looks away, frowning. "I used one of your American planes. We captured one, see."
Tony's eyebrows shoot up. "Wait, really?"
Martin nods. "That's right, mate."
Tony grins. "Then we can get out of here!"
Martin frowns and shakes his head fiercely. "It’s not safe!"
Tony's practically jumping with joy, and Martin is quick to shut it down. "You know we have nowhere to go that's unscathed, right? It isn't protected out of New York," He informs him.
Tony's bubble is temporarily popped, and he's not sure how he feels—somewhere between depressed and furious. "Are you insane? It isn't safe in New York, either. But we could go to Switzerland, right? They didn't get in the war."
Martin shrugs, again. "Well, yes. But fugitives aren't particularly welcome." His arm twitches slightly, a nervous tic.
"We aren't fugitives."
"You aren't, mate. I am."
Tony groans. "What?"
Martin sighs. "I'm from the Royal Air Force, you know. And I've seen enough gore. So I took one of your American planes, and now I'm here."
"How'd you even get out?"
"A bomb was dropped on base. I'd really rather not discuss the rest of it."
"Shouldn't you be in uniform?"
Martin looks at the ground distractedly. "No. I took some civvies from my mates. They don't need them anymore, anyway."
"Is there anywhere we can go?" Tony asks, frowning.
Martin is silent. The thunder grows louder and the lightning brighter.
"Can I stay in your shelter for the night? Then I'll leave. You can come too, if you'd like," he says.
Tony's selfish. He really, really does not want to share his small, cramped living space with a fugitive Australian pilot. But Tony also isn't stupid. He knows if he turns Martin away, he'll probably take his aircraft and go somewhere safe. And Tony won't throw away a shot at freedom, even if it means sharing quarters with a strange, disturbed Australian and his irritating accent.
"Whatever," Tony says.
T W O
If anyone besides the Australian had been with Tony that night, they would have felt bad. The tarp's space was small enough, and though Martin tried to take up as little space as possible, it was still uncomfortable. And the Australian felt the need to speak anything that happened to come to mind. He was really rather scared instead of chatty, and he couldn’t focus on an ethereal idea of rest.
Luckily, it's morning now, and though neither of the two men have gotten much sleep, they know they need to get up.
The two get out of the tarp's safety and stare at each other for a moment, as if trying to read the other's mind. It's not raining anymore, though the ground is wet.
Finally, Martin speaks.
"So," the brunette starts, "How do you feel this morning, mate?"
Tony's jaw twinges slightly. "I'm feeling cloudy with a chance of sarcastic," he hisses angrily, folding the tarp up. "So where are we going, Arnold Schwarzenegger?"
Martin frowns and looks at the cloudy, steel-gray sky. "That's a common misconception. Arnold Schwarzenegger was from Austria, not Australia."
"Do I look like I care?" Tony seethes, throwing down the folded tarp.
"No, I suppose not," Martin says regretfully. "I'm sorry for keeping you up all night, mate."
Tony doesn't respond to Martin's sentiment. "Just take us to the plane."
Martin is surprised. "But we have not picked a location to immigrate to."
"Switzerland. You're a refugee now, since you escaped from the bomb on base."
Martin appears thoughtful. "Yes, I suppose I could say that. But still, I don't think there's enough fuel to get there."
Tony huffs. "Where do you suggest then, Tinkerbell?"
“I don't care what you think about Tinkerbell."
Martin shrugs. "Fine."
"I'm serious, Tinkerbell. If you don't like Switzerland, give me something else."
Martin frowns for a moment, then smiles. "Great Abaco."
Tony frowns. "What?"
Martin sighs. "It's an island in the Bahamas. I should have enough fuel for that, at least. It's not too far from Florida."
Tony thinks for a moment, then shrugs. "Sure. Whatever. Let's go."
It took a considerable amount of time to actually find the Australian's stolen aircraft. It turned out Martin had gone a great distance trying to find another human being.
But now, they're standing in front of it.
"What is it?" Tony asks dumbly. He really isn't sure what else to say.
Martin smiles proudly. "I think it's called a Hornet. It's pretty neat, isn't it?"
Tony shrugs. He doesn't really care.
As the two squeeze into the aircraft, Martin treats Tony like a child, strapping him in and placing the helmet on him.
Tony's nervous now. On United and American Airlines, there were never safety precautions like this. And those planes certainly never looked like this monstrosity.
"You know how to fly this thing, right?" He asks.
Martin waves him off. "Oh, don't worry, mate. I got here all right, didn't I?"
Somehow, that doesn't make the uncertainty in Tony's stomach lessen.
When Martin's finally ready to take off, he turns around to face Tony. "Now, mate, there's a few things we need to go over. One, we can't fly very high. There isn't much gas left in here, so we can't fly very fast, either. This is a stripped model, after all. And this is a bit different than the planes you're used to. It'll be a whole lot shakier and the like."
"A stripped model? You're flying a stripped model?" Tony asks hysterically. It's bad enough he doesn't know how good a pilot Martin is, now he's flying in a disabled aircraft. Not that he knows what Martin is actually talking about.
"It'll be fine, mate. Just try to hold your lunch," Martins says, turning back to the yoke, but even he isn’t sure who he’s trying to convince.
What lunch? Tony thinks sarcastically. He's been living on dead leaves and small animals for the past months. He's pretty sure it won't be that bad. But he was also pretty sure that he'd be living in the remains of New York for the rest of his pitiful life.
"How long will it take?" Tony asks.
"Three or four hours, give or take" Martin responds.
Tony doesn't know much about aeronautics, but he knows a runway is required. He looks around, and sees that Martin has cleared a path through the rubble. He was prepared. Tony was not. But that's nothing new.
As the aircraft takes off, Tony hopes he'll be able to sleep.
T H R E E
It's been two or three hours, and Tony is jolted from his sleep by a sharp turn of the aircraft.
"What on earth are you doing, Tinkerbell?" He asks Martin groggily.
Tony can't see Martin, but he can hear the alarm in his voice. "We're being followed. I changed course to see if they would follow, and they did."
Tony's scared now. "Who's following us? What country are they from? Can you tell?"
"American," Martin says. "Marines, I think. In a helicopter. They're going to start shooting soon."
Tony doubts that. He's sure they won't shoot another American plane. And besides, surely Martin can out-speed a helicopter. Still, Tony frowns. "Can we shoot back?"
"I told you, we stripped all the artillery off, mate. We stole it from you. It doesn't have weaponry."
Tony doesn't think his adrenaline level can get any higher, but it does. "We're going to die."
He's probably right.
Then again, recently his calculations have been a bit off.
"Just sit tight, mate, and I'll try to outsmart them. It's never been hard to outsmart Americans."
Martin's right about the shooting.
There's a sudden whir of bullets and Martin is going in hundreds of different directions trying to dodge them. But he can't. There are too many soldiers on the helicopter, too many guns, too many bullets.
Martin's right about the ride being uncomfortable.
Tony feels like he's going to throw up, even though there's nothing in his stomach.
There's a distinct clang that occurs when metal hits metal, and right now, it's the only thing Tony and Martin can hear. Then there's a loud, unnerving screech as the propeller in the left engine gives out, and the pair are certain that it's soon to fall off. The aircraft starts tilting and losing altitude, and Martin knows he needs to land fast.
"Oh my God," Tony says, trying not to scream.
Martin’s voice is husky and a bit winded. "Please don't say that. I'm Catholic."
"WHAT WOULD YOU RATHER ME SAY? WE'RE GOING TO DIE!"
"No, we're not." Martin has brought the plane to a lower level. "This is Florida. We'll land here."
"They'll capture us!"
"Do you want to die, Tony? I don't! The best shot we have is landing," Martin breaks a bit. He’s frustrated, annoyed, scared, and hundreds of other things. Tony has no idea where they are in Florida, but he knows it doesn't look much different from New York now.
Martin and the helicopter play a horrifying game of cat-and-mouse for what feels like centuries, Tony screaming the whole time. Martin, surprisingly, has stayed calm.
As calm as someone who's lost an engine of the aircraft can be.
"God save us," Martin mutters.
The sweat on Martin's face and body is a mildly disturbing amount. His hands are gripping the controls so much he's sure he's white-knuckled. He knows if he loosens his grip for even a moment his hands will be too shaky to resume their positions. He's seen his friends in the exact same situation he's in, and he'd always thought he'd react better.
Well, he's not.
His lungs are compressing, and his heart is pounding so fast and so loud he's positive the pilot of the helicopter trailing them can hear it. His breathing is shallow and he's almost nauseous.
Tony isn't much better. His hands and legs are shaking out of control, his vision is blurred. His skin is breaking in cold sweats, and he's sure he'll have a heart attack if the helicopter gunmen don't kill him first.
There's a forest clearing, though it doesn't look like much of a forest anymore. But it's enough.
As Martin lands the aircraft, the helicopter lands next to him.
The people who get out are in uniforms that Martin recognizes as Marines. Tony, in a distant corner of his mind, fosters the highly unlikely hope they're from Australia, come to re-capture Martin for deserting.
Whoever they are, they're pointing machine guns at the aircraft and screaming for them to get out.
Martin opens the hatch(es) to get out, and helps Tony out. The Marines are screaming at them to put their hands up.
One of them screams, "Blake!" And a man instantly runs up and pats them down, insuring that they have no weapons.
"Now, listen, mates, we don't mean any harm—"
"No, you listen! That is a Navy aircraft! What on God's green earth are you doing with it?" A man shouts at them. Probably the leader. A platoon leader, maybe? Tony thinks. Neither of the fugitives know much about the structure of the Marine Corps.
Martin opens his mouth to something, anything, but before any words can come out, two men in suits come out from behind the group and start handcuffing them.
"You are under arrest for the theft of a Navy aircraft," one of them says. The other starts reading out their Miranda rights.
Martin looks at Tony as the Navy cops tighten the cuffs. "I told you, it isn't safe out of New York."
F O U R
Tony's losing his touch.
It's been, what, three times he's been wrong today? That's a new record.
He's sitting in what appears to be an interrogation room, waiting.
Waiting for what? He thinks. Or for who?
It's been a good few hours at this point. He doesn't know where, exactly, he is, but he's pretty sure that it's D.C. That's the only place that even has Federal buildings now.
Meanwhile, Martin is in a room right across from Tony, but naturally, he doesn't know that.
Martin thinks a bit more abstractly than Tony. For instance, he's thinking about the color of the walls.
It's a familiar manila tone, one that has many a time graced cheap hotels and hospital waiting rooms. It reminds him of his apartment back in Aussie, before the war. It had been small, but not too small. Martin had bought only what he needed, and didn't see a point in anything else.
He's still like that, honestly.
He's seated at a wood table about two feet wide. There's a darkened window about four feet away from the edge of the table, and Martin knows there's someone behind it.
Tony doesn't know what to do with himself. He's nervous, and it's showing. He's been biting his nails for the last half hour, turning them into stubs.
His feet are tapping impatiently on the carpeted floor, barely audible and incessant.
He wishes he'd never gone with Martin.
He wishes a lot of things.
If his mother knew that, she'd shake her head and say, "Well, Tony, if wishes were fishes, there'd be no water left for them to swim."
But his mother is dead now.
In Martin's room, a man carrying a manila folder walks in and sits at the table.
"Now, mate, really, I was just—" Martin starts.
"Just what?" The interrogator interrupts. "Just stealing a Navy aircraft?"
"No, you've got to listen. I'll tell you everything," Martin says hurriedly.
The Navy cop leans back in his chair and kicks his feet up on his desk. "I'm listening."
Later, in Tony's room, another investigator walks in and takes a seat, this one with a briefcase.
"I'm Special Agent Tyler," she says. "I just have a few questions, Mr. Hill."
"Now, really, we'd already stolen it. The Royal Air Force did, I mean. They captured it, and during a bombing on base, I used it to escape. I really didn't mean any harm. Now, Tony Hill, he was just in New York. I landed there, and when I was leaving, he wanted to come with. He has nothing to do with it, really," Martin says, his voice cracking. He can't remember feeling this awkward since high school.
The Navy cop sighs. "Is that all you've got?"
The man makes like a bird, rushing out of the room before Martin can even conceive a thought. Though he’s not sure he can anymore.
The woman smiles kindly at Tony. "Mr. Hill, how did you meet Martin Brawn?"
Tony shrugs. "He landed in New York. I left with him."
"Did you know he had stolen a plane?"
Tony, again, shrugs. "Yeah. But still. I was gonna die out there." Did this woman, this Special Agent Tyler suppose that Tony, a ruined, self-righteous ex-billionaire, stopped to wonder if Martin was trouble? Of course he’d been trouble. It’s war, after all. Everything’s trouble.
"Did you think his story was off in any sort of way?"
Tony nods. "Sure." Everything’s off. It’s World War III, and you’re wondering why I didn’t stop and ask if he’d ever lied?
Agent Tyler frowns. "Were you aware of Mr. Brawn's criminal record?"
Tony snorts. "No. If you were starving in a literal wasteland and some guy offered you a lift to the Bahamas, would you care about a clean record?"
"He was convicted for petty theft and two DUIs."
"Like I said, Agent Tyler, I don't know his record. All I did was try to survive. Yeah, I knew the plane was stolen. Yeah, I knew Martin's story was shaky. No, I didn't do anything wrong. All's fair in love and war," Tony says. Oh, look—his nonchalant-ness makes a sudden reappearance.
Tyler's face hardens. "Right here, it isn't war, and it isn’t love. It's law."
She gets up and leaves.
There is no court date. There are no qualified persons to run a courtroom, and apparently the Navy cops don't want to play judge, jury and executioner.
So Martin and Tony are thrown into prison ‘until the war is over.’
Martin is dumped into his cell and is silent, curling up into a ball. He knows the war won't end soon.
Tony, on the other hand, has been kicking and screaming the last few hours. He's hysterical. If he ever gets out of this alive—and he knows the probabilities of that are low—he's never committing another crime. He won't even get another DUI. Anything, as long as he doesn't have to sleep in a prison cell. He doesn't want to be lonely.
Would the war ever be over?
Tony doesn't think so.
He's probably right.
He usually is.
F I N I S